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Office 2007 offers new file formats, an improved user interface, and a number of deployment, support, and security improvements. Here are a few things to think about as you decide whether an upgrade makes sense for your organization.
#1: Office 2003 and its predecessors are out of date
The Office platform was built on what are now antiquated technologies-and it has accumulated a lot of gunk over the years. For some perspective, consider that the first version of Word for Windows, released in 1989, had roughly 100 commands and two rudimentary toolbars. Word 2003 has more than 1,500 commands and 30-plus toolbars. As the bells and whistles piled up, a lot of flaws and problems were worked around, built on top of, and left unfixed.
Office 2007 represents a clean break in platform design, built from the ground up to shed the superannuated binary file formats and enable a new (forgive me) paradigm for usability. Instead of trying to implement some fairly critical enhancements on top of the existing design (e.g., blogging capabilities and security features like the Document Inspector), Microsoft opted to incorporate those changes, along with a radically re-architected interface, into a brand new model.
#2: Office 2007 comes in eight flavors
A certain amount of grumbling has accompanied what some perceive as needless packaging complexity and marketing gamesmanship, but in fact, it might serve your organization well to have eight editions to choose from. The versions (which are detailed in "Which edition of Office 2007 is right for you?"), run the gamut from a bare-bones OEM installation to elaborate systems for heavy lifting in the enterprise:
- Microsoft Office Basic 2007
- Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007
- Microsoft Office Standard 2007
- Microsoft Office Small Business 2007
- Microsoft Office Professional 2007
- Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007
- Microsoft Office Professional Plus
- Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007
You'll definitely want to closely analyze the included applications, supported technologies, upgrade paths, and pricing to make sure you're not paying for more than you need or sacrificing essential components.
#3: Pricing is about on par with Office 2003
The price structure for Office 2007 maps pretty closely to Office 2003. For example:
- The retail price for Office Professional 2007, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Office Accounting Express, Publisher, and Access, costs $499 dollars ($329 for the upgrade).
- The retail cost for Microsoft Office Small Business 2007, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Office Accounting Express, and Publisher, costs $449 ($279 for the upgrade).
- The Microsoft Office Standard 2007 edition, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, costs $399 dollars at retail for the full version ($239 for the upgrade).
#4: If you need a lot of stuff, the upper-end versions can deliver
If your organization is large enough or has diverse enough needs, it might make sense to purchase Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007 licenses. This will provide you with a huge variety of Office 2007 applications and technologies-Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, and Publisher, as well as InfoPath, Groove, OneNote, and Communicator, plus support for Enterprise Content Management, integrated electronic forms, and advanced information rights management and policy capabilities.
The Office Professional Plus edition offers a more modest lineup: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook (without Business Contact Manager), Publisher, InfoPath, and Communicator. It also supports integrated ECM, electronic forms, and advanced information rights management and policy capabilities. Both packages are available through volume licensing.
#5: New file formats offer numerous advantages
Office 2007 introduces the XML-based Open XML file formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These formats offer a number of significant advantages:
- More compact size (the files are compressed)
- Less chance of corrupted files (components are stored as separate entities, so if one piece is damaged, the rest of the document is still viable)
- Better integration of business information (users can more easily assemble documents from various data sources, exchange data between Office and other systems, and publish, locate, and reuse information)
- Interoperability (information can be used by any application that can read and write XML, not just Office apps)
- Security (because of the transparent nature of the format, sensitive information can be readily identified and removed; the format also allows you to identify, isolate, and manage embedded code and macros)
- Compatibility (the .doc, .xls, and .ppt binary formats are compatible with Office 2007 apps, and users of Office 2000/XP/2003 can install the Compatibility Pack so that they can open, edit, and save documents in the new formats)
- Open and royalty-free specification
- Easier integration (developers have direct access to specific contents within the file, like charts, comments, and document metadata without having to parse entire documents)
This MSDN article covers various aspects of the new formats in some detail.
#6: Interface is redesigned to improve productivity
Office 2007 offers what Microsoft is calling the fluent user interface, designed to achieve some pretty lofty design goals. The main challenge was to free users from having to thrash their way through the convoluted menu structure in an attempt to locate the commands, tools, options, and features needed to accomplish a particular task.
The Ribbon replaces the menu structure and offers a context-sensitive display of options organized according to function. Along with the Ribbon come a number of other usability aids, including Live Preview, which gives users a look at the effect of various formatting options on selected text before they make any changes; the Mini Toolbar, which offers basic formatting buttons and hovers semitransparently over selected text; galleries, which are essentially prefab collections of attributes for certain items (like tables); and a customizable status bar with buttons for genuinely useful features.
#7: App-specific enhancements add efficiency and power
Apart from their interface-lift, Office 2007 applications provide some legitimate feature improvements that in many cases, will allow users to be more productive and produce better results. A few examples:
- Word 2007 offers an enhanced document comparison feature lets you view original copy against revised copy in a tri-pane window; its Document Inspector finds and removes comments, hidden text, and personally identifiable information; it offers prefab building blocks (elements like cover pages and sidebars) to speed document assembly.
- Excel 2007 has expanded its spreadsheet capacity to 1 million rows and 16,000 columns; charting is simplified; conditional formatting is easier to apply; new tools make it easier to discover trends and variances in your data.
- PowerPoint 2007 lets you set up slide libraries on a SharePoint Server 2007 site and keep presentations synchronized with the slides stored there; you can design custom slide layouts; you can apply a theme to globally transform the appearance of a presentation.
- Access 2007 includes new database templates to help you set up things like inventory tracking and project management; you can use new grouping, filtering, and sorting features to refine your reports; it includes some new field types.
- Outlook 2007 offers a To-Do bar that shows you flagged e-mail and tasks; calendar sharing has been improved; an attachment previewer has been added; it includes support for reading and managing RSS feeds.
#8: New features make it easier to turn out better-looking results
Although improving productivity is high on the list of Office 2007 design objectives, a number of new tools and features are aimed at helping users produce more sophisticated and attractive documents and presentations. For instance:
- Word's Quick Style sets make it easy for even style-phobic users to format document text consistently (instead of forcing them to choose from one monster list of unrelated styles or make ad hoc manual formatting changes).
- The new SmartArt feature, which you can use in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook e-mail messages, lets you create slick graphics to convey all kinds of information.
- Word comes with a gallery of building blocks, which you can drop into a document to add preformatted elements like headers and footers, cover pages, sidebars, and pull quotes.
- Access offers new templates for a variety of purposes and a greenbar format to make forms and reports sharper-looking and easier to read.
- An enhanced set of themes-coordinated across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint-lets you develop a standard look and feel across all your documents and presentations.
- Excel's charting features (supported in Word and PowerPoint) have been improved and include new special effects and templates. Excel also offers more color choices, richer conditional formatting, styles to simplify formatting tables, charts, and pivot tables, and a much improved implementation of cell styles.
- PowerPoint allows you to create custom layouts and offers new text options, such as columns, wrapping, vertical text, and special effects (glowing, fills, 3-D, etc.).
#9: Beefed-up user assistance reduces support overhead
Office 2007 includes a considerable number of user support features. For starters, Enhanced ScreenTips generally provide more than just the name of a tool or button. In many cases, a ScreenTip will offer a picture or diagram, an explanation of the tool's purpose, and a link to relevant online help topics.
Also, since the tools and features are designed to be more accessible and intuitive, users should be able to complete various tasks without requiring too many support calls (at least in theory).
By default, the Office help system is tied into Office Online when users are connected to the Internet. (If that feature is disabled or they're not connected, they can still access the locally installed help files.) Along with topic- and task-specific help for each application, Office Online offers a wide variety of training and support options, including video demos, self-paced training courses, interface guides to help users map familiar commands to the new Ribbon locations, eLearning modules, downloadable training presentations, and a few experimental podcasts.
#10: Numerous deployment options are available
Office 2007 supports a variety of deployment options, whether you need to install it on one system or hundreds (or even thousands) of systems. You can prepare disk images, deploy it on networks with limited bandwidth using precache technology, upgrade existing versions, or deploy it across an enterprise using Group Policy or Microsoft SMS 2003.
In addition, Microsoft offers its Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007, which can help you perform large scale Office (and Vista) rollouts. Among other things, it lets you create software and hardware inventories to help in installation planning, test applications to confirm compatibility before installation, and create a lab environment. It also includes custom options, scripts, and sample configuration files.
If you have a large number of old-format files, you might want to check out the free Office Migration Planning Manager (OMPM), which you can install on computers running XP SP2, Vista, or Server 2003. Once the OMPM is installed, you can use its Office File Converter to perform a bulk conversion of your old Office files to the new XML-based format.